Other Post Pumas need improvements

John A Silkstone

Mi General
MI.Net Member
Jul 11, 2004
A coroner has called for a series of improvements to be made to the RAF's fleet of Puma helicopters after hearing of the deaths of two British servicemen in a collision between two aircraft in Iraq.

Colour Sgt Mark Powell, 37, of the Parachute Regiment, and RAF crewman Sgt Mark McLaren, 27, were crushed to death under a Puma during a botched landing north of Baghdad in April last year.

An inquest into their deaths heard that the blades of their Puma struck another helicopter that had already landed and the men were catapulted out of the open door as the aircraft went into a "dynamic roll over".

Wiltshire Coroner David Masters said he will write to the Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth recommending that equipment onboard the fleet is improved and the training of servicemen in landing procedures is overhauled. He will also recommend that black box accident recorders be fitted to the entire fleet.

The inquest heard Sgt McLaren was fastened in with a harness which had to be repeatedly adjusted to allow him to move.

An improved belt, designed before the collision, is yet to be installed, the inquest heard.

After recording a narrative verdict detailing the circumstances which led to the men's deaths, Mr Masters said: "I'm concerned by the time it has taken for the modification to be put into service, and I shall recommend that the modified pigtail harness is installed without delay. It would prevent a properly secured crewman from being thrown out of an aircraft such as this."

The five-day inquest heard the Puma was one of a taskforce of five which had come into land on flat terrain near Taji to the north of Baghdad in the early hours of April 15 to undertake a covert night-time mission.

The lead helicopter, Puma One, overshot the recommended landing area by 100 metres and ended up in the adjoining field, known as Field Two, the inquest heard. The captain of Puma One, referred to only as Witness 10, admitted during an earlier hearing he did not radio other pilots to warn them of the mistake.

Instead he hovered and "reversed" back into what he thought was Field One - but actually entered a different field, Field Three, which did not have enough space for the three aircraft to land safely.

As Puma Two came down to land alongside Puma One, the blades on the two aircraft "meshed" - sending Puma Two into a roll.

Clr Sgt Powell, from Porthcawl, in South Wales, and Sgt McLaren, from Ashington, in Northumberland, were "flung" from the helicopter and found dead underneath it.

A Home Office pathologist found Clr Sgt Powell, a father-of-one thought to be serving in the SAS at the time of his death, died of multiple injuries, while Sgt McLaren, who died months after the birth of his twin sons, suffered from traumatic asphyxia.

Speaking after the inquest, Sgt McLaren's widow Kerry described him as an "exceptionally professional, talented and dedicated RAF helicopter crewman" and a "wonderful, warm and loving husband and a father, who excitedly looked forward to watching his young sons grow.

"Unfortunately, he didn't reach his first Father's Day," she said. "We will miss him very much."

The lead helicopter - Puma One - touched down and troops disembarked before Puma Two, in which Stf Sgt Powell and Sgt McLaren were travelling, came into trouble as it attempted to land alongside.

Whereas previous anonymous witnesses told the inquest the helicopters did not seem close enough to clash, Mr Sleight said his findings revealed the blades of Puma One and Two must have meshed as Puma Two came into land.

He said: "The blades examined on Puma One showed clear damage to the erosion strips, which is a failure that could only occur had that blade struck something hard, such as another blade."

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